The ‘Dos’ and ‘Don’ts’ of wearing a mask in Berlin

When leaving your home these days, there’s one accessory you need to make sure you have and that’s a covering for your face. In this "Berlin Report," Sylvia Cunningham answers questions about the latest rules and guidelines around wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Photo by Sylvia Cunningham



When leaving your home these days, there’s one accessory you need to make sure you have and that’s a covering for your face.

All of Germany’s 16 federal states now require masks of some sort, though the specifics vary from state to state. In Berlin, shielding your nose and mouth while shopping and using public transit is the law.

Below are some answers to frequently asked questions about Berlin’s masking requirement.

Does wearing a mask mean I don’t need to follow social distancing rules?

No. Keeping distance from others and proper hygiene – like handwashing – are still the most important things you can do to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Covering your face with a mask or scarf, however, can also help.

How does covering my face help protect me or others?

One way doctors say the virus spreads is through respiratory droplets, or the tiny particles you exhale, sneeze or cough out.

Dr. Heidrun Thaiss, the executive director of Germany’s Centre for Health Education, says by shielding your mouth and nose, you’re helping prevent these droplets from spreading further.

But Dr. Thaiss also notes: wearing a mask protects others from you – Not the other way around.

If you know you’re sick, health officials say you should stay home. But if you’re among the asymptomatic individuals – meaning you feel fine, but are nevertheless infected and potentially contagious – wearing a mask is one thing you can do to protect others, especially medically at-risk people or the elderly.

I thought masks were hard to come by. Where can I get one?

Medical-grade masks (known as Filtering Facepiece Masks or FFP) are in short supply worldwide and should be left for medical professionals who are caring for sick patients, as it’s crucial they not get infected.

But the type of masks we’re talking about – and the ones Berlin officials now require you to wear in stores and on public transport – are not as sophisticated. Sometimes referred to as “community masks,” these can be homemade and improvised from material like cotton.

Using a scarf to cover your mouth and nose also meets Berlin’s masking requirement.

How should I wear and handle my mask?

Your mask is only effective if worn correctly, and as Chancellor Angela Merkel says, handling one improperly can be more dangerous than not wearing one at all.

You should wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before putting on your mask. The material should cover your nose and mouth, and the fit should be snug, but you should still be able to breathe easily.

Though it may get hot or uncomfortable under your mask, you must take care not to touch it while wearing it. That’s because it’s crucial to avoid transferring germs that are on your hands to your face.

When you remove your mask, you should wash your hands immediately for at least 20 seconds. Your mask should be placed in an airtight bag or better yet, washed immediately at a temperature of at least 60 degrees Celsius (that’s 140 degrees Fahrenheit).

What happens if I don’t wear a mask?

In Berlin, people who flout the masking requirement could pay a fine ranging from 50 to 500 euros. But that’s not something Berlin Mayor Michael Müller reportedly wants to enforce, especially since he says there’s been widespread acceptance of coronavirus-related measures so far.

Also note that children in Berlin under the age of 6 are exempt from the masking requirement.

Are people following the masking requirement so far?

Yes. The head of Berlin-Brandenburg’s Trade Association (“Handelsverbands Berlin-Brandenburg”) told the German news agency DPA that a majority of Berliners were following the masking requirement in stores.

Similarly, the BVG estimated last week that at least 95% of passengers adhered to the masking requirement. A spokeswoman for the transport company previously made clear they had no authority to enforce the rule and would not be denying customers entry, even if they didn’t comply. That’s in contrast to some federal states like Bavaria for example, where state premier Markus Söder told the publication Focus Online that people should expect to be denied access to local transport if they don’t adhere to the law.

For up-to-date information on what you should be doing to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, check our fact sheet. 

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